NCAA Tourney Moves on to the Sweet 16

NCAA Tourney Moves on to the Sweet 16

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Ohio, NC State among the surprise teams this year.

The second and third rounds of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Tournament are now complete, with a pair of No. 2 seeds eliminated and three lower seeds surviving. This Thursday and Friday, the regional semifinal games will be played or what we know as the Sweet 16. The Ohio Bobcats, winner of the Mid-American Conference tournament and North Carolina State University of the ACC are among the lower seeds that are still alive. The No. 13 Bobcats stunned Michigan and South Florida to advance, while the No. 11 Wolfpack dismissed San Diego State and Georgetown. The biggest news over the weekend were second round victories by Norfolk State and Lehigh, a pair of No. 15 teams that eliminated Missouri and Duke respectively. Both of those teams lost on Sunday, as the field was narrowed to the Sweet 16.

Staying Alive

Fittingly, each of the No. 1 seeds is very much alive with both Kentucky and North Carolina facing little challenge as these two teams advanced. Syracuse struggled in its opening game against UNC-Asheville before easing past Kansas State over the weekend. Michigan State had no trouble with LIU-Brooklyn, but had its hands full with Saint Louis on Sunday before pulling out a 65-61 win. Keith Appling’s 3-pointer with 94 seconds remaining gave the Spartans the room that they needed to hold on.

The Sweet 16 moves on to four cities — Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston and St. Louis — with the Elite Eight following on Saturday and Sunday. The winner of each region moves on to the Final Four in New Orleans with the semifinals played on March 31 and the championship on April 2.

Hoosier Opportunity

Among the key matchups this week will have Kentucky squaring off with Indiana. It has been a decade since the Hoosiers have been in the tournament, while the Wildcats remain the overall No. 1 seed. These two teams met on December 10 in Bloomington, Ind., with the Hoosiers handing the Wildcats a buzzer-beating 73-72 loss, one of only two losses for Kentucky this year. It is time for revenge and the Wildcats plan to get it this Thursday. For Indiana, this rematch is a chance to recapture its past glory, perhaps putting the Hoosiers on a path to their sixth national championship. The last time Indiana won it all was in 1987, several years before any of its current players were born. These two teams play in the South regional on Friday following Baylor and Xavier’s game.

On Thursday, Michigan State and Louisville face off for the West regional semifinal and that game will be followed by Florida and Marquette. The Gators have blasted both of its opponents, beating Virginia 71-45 before dispatching Norfolk State 84-50. Marquette, however, will be tougher to vanquish as Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder combine to put up the points.

In the East regional Syracuse takes on Wisconsin followed by Cincinnati against Ohio State in a pair of Big East v. Big Ten matchups. Cincinnati overcame a midseason swoon that included a loss to Rutgers before knocking off Syracuse enroute to the Big East tournament title game. That game was won by Louisville, one of four Big East teams that are in the Sweet 16.

The Midwest regional will pit North Carolina against Ohio in a game where the Tar Heels are the clear favorite. Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller are the two top scorers for UNC, a team that won national championships in 2005 and 2009. UNC may have to do without Kendall Marshall who suffered a fractured right wrist on Sunday against Creighton. The winner of that game will be closely watching the contest that follows as NC State takes on Kansas.

On to New Orleans

With each of the top seeds very much alive, the tournament now comes down to an endurance test. Ohio, Xavier and NC State are the three Cinderella or lower seed teams that have won two games to advance this far. Four teams from the state of Ohio remain, giving the Buckeye State a good chance of sending at least one school to the Final Four. Florida looks red hot, but has yet to be tested in this tournament by an elite team. That will happen this week with Marquette up first followed by Michigan State or Louisville if they manage to dispatch the Golden Eagles.

See AlsoBracketBusters and the Art of College Basketball

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